Skip to main content

Full text of "My Country And My People"

See other formats

248          MY    COUNTRY    AND    MY    PEOPLE

representative of the northern dramas, while the Moon Pavilion
(Paiyuehfing) and the Romance of the Guitar (P*ip*ackf) may be
taken as representative of the southern dramas. The Western
Chamber, although consisting of twenty acts, was strictly in the
nature of a dramatic sequence of five plays, with four acts in

There is one difference between Chinese and Western opera.
While in the West the opera is the privilege of the classes,
very often attended for its social glitter and out of an "opera
complex" rather than for real musical appreciation, so far as
the occupants of the "golden horseshoe95 are concerned, the
Chinese operas are the mental food of the poor. Deeper than
any other literary art, the operas have gone down to the hearts
of the people. Imagine a people whose masses know the airs
of Tannhduser and Tristan und Isolde and Pinafore by heart,
gaily singing them in the streets and at all odd moments, and
you have a picture of the relation between Chinese operas and
the Chinese masses. There is a type of mania in China, un-
known in the West, called hsimi or "opera mania," and one
may often see a maniac of the lower class, with dishevelled
hair and clad in tatters, singing the airs of K*ungcKengchi and
acting the part of the great Chuko Liang in the streets of old

Foreign visitors at Chinese theatres are often struck by the
excruciating noise emanating from the gongs and drums in
military plays and the equally nerve-racking falsetto of male
singers, while the Chinese evidently cannot live without them.
This must, on the whole, be credited to Chinese nerves,
although the theory seems to be counter-evidenced by the
apparent comfort with which Americans tolerate squeaks from
the saxophone and other sound-madness from the jazz band
which set any Chinese gentleman's nerves on end. It is possibly
all a question of adaptation. But the origin of the drums and
gongs and the falsetto can only be understood in the light of
Chinese theatre surroundings.

The Chinese theatre of the better type was built in a yard
like the Elizabethan theatre. In most cases, however, the
stages consisted of temporary wooden racks, built high above
the ground ia the open, or sometimes right across a thorough-